The Stranglers brought out their extensive catalogue of hits at a near capacity Auckland Town Hall Saturday night and did not disappoint their fans…….except for maybe one drongo……
But before we get to that, it was a breezy, hazy old summer Saturday in February and we just caught the Pluto show down in Basque Park in Auckland’s emergent Uptown. What a great open-air venue another volcano? But a suitable sound cauldron for the reunited planet Pluto. It’s great to have them back!
And, now in the Town Hall, the keyboards soar into life as Murray Burns leads his new, young version of Mi-Sex on to the stage. And who is that Fagin-like creature creeping in from the side, twirling with the microphone, and looking like a younger version of Alice Cooper? Can’t be, he’s here next week. Why, it’s Steve Balbi, formerly of Noiseworks, and he’s here to sing, having just woken up.
And now we’re off, and the years peel back, perfectly positioning us for a night of punk and rock nostalgia. Graffiti Crimes has still got balls, written on the walls.
The young guys, with James Van Cooper on hot licks, and the rhythm section of Travis New on bass and Jordan McDonald on drums bring an energy and enthusiasm to the old songs and we’re back in the 80s. Aussie rock at its best. Steve Balbi gets up off his knees and embraces Travis in a good old glam rock pash, and off we go, he Don’t Care. The drummer looks like a young Murray, who in turn is doing his best impression of Tim Finn, and the song is Falling In and Out, songs you remember now, but have most likely long forgotten.
It’s just bloody great stuff, and Balbi plays the crowd like a pro, “isn’t it good to be alive”, “we may be getting old, but we’re not dead yet”. Yes, he means us, and maybe Murray. Everybody have a good time, except for the three diehards at the front, two shaven heads and a longhair in between, who are just staunch, unmoving and unmoved. “yeah, I know, you’ve come to see the Stranglers, and not us, but mate, we’ve come to see them too, plus we get to do this, and get paid for it, so fuckin’ there!!”
The songs roll on, a 9 track version of their greatest hits, including Stills, Blue Day, a new one, My Sex Your Sex, and, penultimately, the audience rejoices as the opening sounds of Computer Games emerge. Last song is People.
Homage to members past, Messrs Gilpin, Stanton & Martin, and it’s over, but it’s been awesome. Couple of my mates are hearing them for the first time (as are no doubt many more) and are mightily impressed.
And this is just the opening act!! More like a double bill!
1. Graffiti Crimes
2. You Just Don’t Care
3. Falling in and Out
4. It Only Hurts When I’m Laughing
6. My Sex Your Sex
7. Blue Day
8. Computer Games
Ok, what’s the difference between The Stranglers and your run of the mill punk band of the 70s?
It’s the keyboards, man, the keyboards, soaring and sweeping behind the throbbing bass and drums, perfect foils to the snarl and bite of the provocative lyrics. Dave Greenfield’s keyboards provided the perfect backdrop to what was new, and fresh, and uncompromising when they hit the scene in the mid-70s.
The other difference of course was that they were a bit older than your average Johnny Rotten, and had experience and form which came through in the biting, sometimes misanthropic, but always clever lyrics. These boys were a bit on the nasty side, and sometimes meant it.
To me, back in ‘76, seeing them at the Nashville Rooms in Earls’ Court, they weren’t so much punk as refreshing, much like Tom Petty was when he hit the scene about the same time, with short sharp rock statements in contrast to the meandering mayhem of the great progressives of that era (who I also worshipped at the same time).
But now they’ve all grown up, and only Dave, who’s looking a bit worse for wear, and the charming JJ Burnel, looking decidedly ageless for his soixante-huityears, are left from the original band. But Baz Warne, who tells me he was 12 years old when I first saw the Stranglers in 1976, is by now a veteran of 20 years on vocals and lead guitar, and, frankly, we can forget about the other “he who shall not be named” vocalist who divorced the band back in 1990. Drummer Jim Macauley ably deputizes for the senior Strangler, Jet Black, who hasn’t played live for a few years now due to ill health.
And so here they are, JJ and Baz up front, with Dave hiding behind his keyboards next to Jim and his kit back of stage.
Get a Grip on Yourself, (what, do they really mean that?) opens the batting and we are off on a T20 barrage of hits, fours, sixes and a bunch of singles. Relentless rock. Men in black. Not a good choice on such a hot night, but it’s the uniform, and this is a powerful team. JJ showing a deft left leg (does he do yoga?) on Norfolk Coast, and Baz sneering and posturing his way through Duchess.
Meanwhile, up front the three staunches are to be seen gently clapping, their heads nodding almost imperceptibly in ecstasy. They’re alive! What restraint!
Baz stirs the crowd up, especially the poor nancies way up in the upper circle; “who goes to a rock concert to sit down?’ (well I do, for one). The “real” people are down on the floor bobbing left and right to get a glimpse of the band around the tall bastard standing in front of them.
The hits keep coming. JJ takes lead on Time Was Once on my Side and Golden Brown, with the keyboard intro which everybody knows (strikes me that the Stones did their own versions on those particular subjects). Great solo from Baz.
And here comes my favourite song from 1984’s Aural Sculpture, Skin Deep, the one they didn’t play here last time (3 years ago). Aural ecstasy.
A Nuclear Device almost goes off, and then JJ’s throbbing bass introduces the song they can’t write anymore (as in not allowed to), Peaches. Crowd knows all the words, can’t be that bad….. something Baz does wrong creates great mirth, but no one knows and no one cares…
And then some drongo throws his beer on to the stage, still in its bottle, narrowly and fortunately missing everyone. Baz has just done a little wind-up, disparaging our beloved Black Caps during one of the songs ( it is a T20 tonight after all), but this is the Auckland Town Hall, not the bloody MCG.
A little moment of unnecessary tension is somewhat relieved when Andy, the guitar tech, shows off his arse…..good on you Andy….seems like a Scottish arse, because there are lots of Scotsmen here tonight ( thinking about the Stranglers and Mother England in the same breath), including one Campbell McGregor, the guy who follows them, well, everywhere. All over the world.
And on we go. The band cut loose on the Dionne Warwick cover, Walk on By, followed by Something Better Change (like getting rid of wankers who throw bottles..)
And Relentlessly, we are Hanging Around, until it Tanks.
Time for a quick encore, firstly the song JJ wrote when he was fifteen, a melange of Holly and the Beach Boys (what a great band that would have been), and the inevitable No More Heroes.
Dave shows us how to finish the solo with one hand, and scull his drink in the other. Legendary, and it’s 23 overs. Fine night of cricket.
Great show, Boylee reckons it’s better than the Powerstation three years ago, everybody happy, the night of the long keyboards….
2. Norfolk Coast
4. I’ve Been Wild
5. No Mercy
6. Nice ‘n’ Sleazy
7. This Song Will Get Me Over You
8. 5 Minutes
9. Time Was Once on my Side
10. Golden Brown
11. Always the Sun
12. Time to Die
13. Skin Deep
14. Nuclear Device
16. 15 Steps
17. Walk on By
18. Something Better Change
20. Hanging Around
22. Go Buddy Go
23. No More Heroes
Photography By: Stella GardinerPlease Note: The photographs in this review were taken at the Wellington show at The Opera House, Friday 14th February